Wigan has been named as one of the worst 20 towns outside of London for the number of homes that have been empty for more than six months.
According to figures analysed by Property Partner, 1,654 properties in 2015 had been lying unoccupied and unfurnished in the borough for six months or more with an estimated value of £156m.
Although this is a huge reduction from the peak number of 2,537 in 2009, it is a similar to the 1,644 that lay empty a decade ago in 2005.
In total, there were 4,126 vacant properties in Wigan in 2015, again a reduction from a peak of 5,572 in 2008 but again is similar to 10 years ago when it was 4,219.
Property Partner, a property crowdfunding platform which used Department of Communities and Local Government figures, has blasted councils for not doing enough to reduce the number of empty properties.
Dan Gandesha, CEO of Property Partner, said: “These figures reveal a shocking waste of opportunity.
“Over a decade ago, the law changed giving councils the power to seize empty homes through Compulsory Purchase Orders and rent them back out to tenants, if they lay vacant for more than two years.
“But we still find not enough being done in many parts of the country. This is nothing short of a scandal.
“To be fair, some towns and cities are getting to grips with the problem of long-term vacant properties.
“Yet if just half of the current empty homes could be brought to market, it would go a long way towards resolving the housing crisis, particularly in London.”
Property Partner has said that more than 203,000 long-term empty homes which, according to its research, have an estimated value of over £38bn.
In the past decade, the number of long-term vacant dwellings in England has been reducing. In 2005, there were 313,616 - by 2015 that had dropped by around a third to 203,596. Impressively, Manchester has seen the number of empty homes plummet by more than 84 per cent, from 10,059 long-term vacant dwellings in 2005 to 1,599 ten years later.
Amongst the other worst-affected 20 towns and cities in England outside London) are Liverpool, Birmingham, Bradford and Sheffield and well as Bolton, Oldham and the Wirral. Wigan ranks as 11th out of the 20 based on the number of long-term vacant properties behind Sunderland, Sefton and Calderdale. Bradford tops the table with 4,154 with Birmingham close behind on 3,886.
But Wigan Council has said the figures are misleading because they don’t take into account the changes in economy since 2005 or the percentage of the total housing stock in each area.
Karl Battersby, director of economy and environment, said: “As a percentage of homes in the borough, the number of empty homes equates to 1.1 per cent and this is in line with the rest of Greater Manchester.
“The current figure is a large reduction from the height of the recession in 2009 when we had 2,537 empty homes and reflects the work that has been done over the last few years to tackle this issue including through our successful Empty to Plenty scheme which sees properties renovated and rented at affordable rates.
“We have consistently used our Compulsory Purchase powers to bring long term empty homes back into use.
“We currently have 24 cases at various stages of processing which is high in comparison to other areas.”
The number of empty homes has been criticised in the past as helping contribute to homelessness, leaving people to sleep on the street when properties lie empty.
It could also help contribute to the borough’s housing shortage which means the council is dedicated to building a certain number fo new houses in the next fiver years which has led it to agree to a number of large developments. The council has given its approval for more than 10,000 houses to be built in Standish alone in the last few years.
But Makerfield MP Yvonne Fovargue, who last year called the number of empty homes a scandal, believes the figure shows a growing divide between people who can afford to leave a property empty and those who are forced to live in overcrowded homes.
She said: “Britain is in the grip of a worsening housing divide between those who can leave homes lying empty and those forced to live on top of one another in overcrowded households. The latest data is a reminder that empty homes remain a problem in many parts of the country including Wigan.
“Not only are they a wasted resource but they cause blight to communities.
“The truth is the Government has failed to tackle the growing housing shortage with the number of homes built falling to the lowest level in peacetime since the 1920s.”
“More must be done to tackle the scandal of empty homes by increasing empty-home penalties and clamping down on empty home loopholes that stop action being taken.”
Last year, when the number of empty homes in total stood at 4,520 in Wigan in October 2014, compared to 4,970 12 months earlier and 5,190 in October 2012, she said the number was still far too high. Ms Fovargue said: “It is a scandal that over 4,500 properties are empty across Wigan.
“These homes, which could house thousands of people, are being left unoccupied, so we need to work more closely with owners of vacant properties and consider imposing tougher penalties on properties that remain vacant for more than a year.
“For many families the dream of homeownership is fading into the distance and those who rent have a large chunk of their take-home pay eaten up by the cost of putting a roof over their heads.”